Michael Ondaatje recommends two overlooked classics

The Canadian icon and Man Booker Prize winner shares a novel and a nonfiction book that he feels deserves more readers.
Michael Ondaatje recommends reading Letters of Sylvia Townsend, edited by William Maxwell, and The Land Breakers by John Ehle. (Daniel Mordzinski)

In accepting the Golden Man Booker Prize, The English Patient author Michael Ondaatje commented that he wished "that those of us on this Man Booker list had been invited to propose and speak about what we felt were the overlooked classics — in order to enlarge what ought to be read, as opposed to relying on the usual suspects." 

Inspired by this, CBC Books is asking previous Man Booker Prize winners: What novel would you consider to be an "overlooked classic" deserving of more readers?

Ondaatje, who is on the 2018 Man Booker Prize longlist for his novel Warlight, chose two books: a novel and a work of nonfiction.

"John Ehle's The Land Breakers is a masterpiece of American historical fiction that has been shockingly overlooked since it was published in 1960. Ehle wrote several books set in North Carolina, beginning with this one that takes place in 1776. It is a wonder and a great beginning to a series of books. NYRB Books has recently republished it.

"The Letters of Townsend Warner, edited by William Maxwell, is a book so full of incident, weather, humour, good and bad behaviour and remarkable people — all off stage, so you end up gathering them in as if you are reading a great 20th century novel. Her letters deal with cats, storms, love affairs, gardens, great cities in the distance, books she reads and writes. It is a book full of life and gracious and surprising opinions. Perfect company in the solitude of that desert island.


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